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Tagliabue expects to rule on bounties by December

Tagliabue expects to rule on bounties by December

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue plans to complete all hearings in the NFL's bounty probe of the Saints by Dec. 4 and make a ruling shortly after.

Such timing potentially could be disruptive for the Saints, who could lose starting defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma while trying to claw back into playoff contention.

In a document obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press, Tagliabue directs the NFL to produce key witnesses in the New Orleans Saints' cash-for-hits program, including former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo.

Four players initially were suspended, but those punishments were vacated. Commissioner Roger Goodell re-issued the suspensions with some modifications, and when the players appealed again, Goodell appointed Tagliabue to oversee the new hearings. Vilma and Smith are still playing pending the outcomes of their appeals.

Smith said he was pleased with Tagliabue's decision to hold the NFL responsible for producing witnesses who helped with the league's investigation.

``The most important thing is that Gregg Williams and those other guys are going to have to testify and be cross-examined,'' Smith said. ``We'll see if their story stays the same.''

Even as Tagliabue moves the process forward, a federal judge is still considering arguments by players that Tagliabue should be removed as arbitrator because he is biased in favor of the NFL. Based on the schedule laid out by Tagliabue, U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan could choose to rule as early as next week.

Smith said he was ``not concerned'' about the NFL's timeline calling for a decision before the season ends, adding, ``Whatever happens, happens. I don't think I'll be surprised.''

Vilma was not in the Saints' locker room while it was open to reporters.

For now, only Williams, Cerullo, Vilma, Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt, NFL chief security officer Jeff Miller are the only scheduled witnesses.

They are scheduled to appear in a series of hearings in Washington D.C. running from Tuesday through Dec. 4. That means Vilma and Smith likely will be available at least for the Saints' next two games against San Francisco this Sunday and at Atlanta on Nov. 29. They could also play at the New York Giants on Dec. 9.

Vitt said after Wednesday's practice that he did not know anything about Tagliabue's schedule and declined comment, saying he's focused on getting ready for the 49ers.

Saints linebacker Curtis Lofton said the Saints cannot afford to be distracted by the possibility that they will lose Vilma and Smith late in the season, but he did not diminish the importance of the two players to the Saints' defense.

``These guys have been here for years and they're kind of like the foundation of this team,'' Lofton said. ``So having those guys being able to play has mentally and physically been a boost to this defense and it's great to have those guys out there.''

None of the players have served a game of their suspensions yet, though Vilma was barred from attending Saints training camp before Goodell's initial rulings were vacated during Week 1 of the regular season.

Vilma initially was suspended the entire 2012 season and Smith for four games.

The two other players punished are former Saints: Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, who is now on injured reserve, and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove. Hargrove initially was suspended eight games, but that later was reduced to seven with credit given for the first five games he missed as a free agent. Fujita initially was suspended three games and that was later reduced to one game.

Facing resistance from the NFL Players Association and lawyers separately representing Vilma, who had argued that Goodell could not be objective, the commissioner removed himself as arbitrator in the bounty matter and appointed Tagliabue, his predecessor, in his place on Oct. 19.

Tagliabue noted in his most recent memo that other witnesses could be scheduled. Tagliabue also said he expects to decide by Monday whether to allow the Saints' personnel file on Cerullo to be included as evidence.

Players have argued that Cerullo was the NFL's primary source of information about the Saints' performance pool. They've also argued that Cerullo's credibility is in question because he was fired by the club after the 2009-10 season and he had accused the club of preventing him from getting a job on another NFL coaching staff.

The NFL investigation concluded that Saints players were rewarded for hits that knocked targeted opposing players out of games from 2009-2011. The league said there was evidence that the Saints placed bounties on star quarterbacks including Brett Favre, Kurt Warner and Aaron Rodgers.

Saints players and coaches have acknowledged they had a pool that paid rewards for big plays including interceptions, forced fumbles, sacks and big hits, similar to programs other teams have had across the league for generations. However, they say no one ever intended to injure an opposing player.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: What the Ramon Sessions signing means for Tomas Satoransky

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Associated Press

Wizards Tipoff podcast: What the Ramon Sessions signing means for Tomas Satoransky

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller offered their reaction to the Ramon Sessions signing and how it could affect Tomas Satoransky. Plus, how the Wizards match up with the new-look Cavs and how Kelly Oubre, Jr. broke out of his slump.

Chase also explained his epic fail with an Oubre interview and they revisited an Instagram post from months ago that foreshadowed much that has gone down this season.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!

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Maryland reacts to latest FBI investigation reports

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USA Today Sports Images

Maryland reacts to latest FBI investigation reports

The world of college basketball has been on high alert since last fall when reports first surfaced of a long-term FBI investigation into the worst-kept secret in sports: college athletes being paid to play.

News surrounding the scandal died down after the inital wave of arrests, but Yahoo! Sports released a warning of sorts recently and followed it up on Friday by naming players (both past and present) for the first time. There were dozens of programs and players implicated, including Maryland's Diamond Stone.

Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon released the following statement Friday afternoon.

"Late last night we were alerted of a report associating one of our former student-athletes with an agent. We are extremely disappointed, and we will fully cooperate with any investigation. I do not have a relationship with Andy Miller or anyone from his agency, and at no time have I ever had a conversation with Andy Miller or his agency regarding any Maryland basketball player. We remain steadfast in upholding a program of integrity that reflects the values of our University community."

Stone played for the Terps during the 2015-16 season, after which he left for the NBA. That Terps team was highly-ranked entering the season but ended up losing in the Sweet 16 to top-seeded Kansas.

RELATED: DIAMOND STONE ADMITS TO 'MISTAKES' DURING FRESHMAN YEAR AT MARYLAND

Andy Miller is the agent whose financial records were used to implicate so many players in the Yahoo! Sports report. It's no surprise that Turgeon would deny having a relationship with Miller regarding any of his players, but the question remains: What does this mean for Maryland basketball?

You can be sure that Turgeon will be meeting with both past and current assistant coaches Friday to confirm they have not had any involvement with Andy Miller. He'll also certainly be meeting with higher-ups at Maryland, as they try to cover their bases. 

That said, it seems unlikely Maryland would take an action as drastic as firing Turgeon over these allegations. There has been no evidence released so far that implies Turgeon had any knowledge of Stone's actions. Barring further information coming to light, it seems as though this is a case of Stone developing a relationship with Miller's agency separately from Maryland.

Some of the more vocal members of Maryland's fan base would like to think Turgeon is on the hot seat. The truth is, given his long-term contract and the current state of Maryland's finances, it's not currently feasible to fire him and expect to afford a more accomplished coach. Though if further reports indicate Turgeon was complicit, then all bets are off.

It remains possible the NCAA will impose punishments on the schools involved with this scandal, in the form of reduced scholarships, postseason bans, or worse. But that's likely off the table until further evidence comes out regarding how much schools and coaches actually knew. It is a near-certainty that some schools were in cahoots with Miller and other agents; the problem is identifying which schools were intentionally breaking the rules, and which were simply unaware. Ultimately, however, some degree of responsibility falls on the head coach.

For now, the biggest worry on the minds of Maryland fans should be vacated wins. If Diamond Stone was ineligible, then it's possible the victories Maryland recorded during the 2015-16 season will be erased from the record books. Unfortunately, this could include their run to the Sweet 16, which was the program's first in more than a decade.

Given the expectations surrounding the team during Stone's year in College Park, his tenure could already be considered a disappointment. Losing those wins would further dampen the memories fans have from that season.

On the bright side, at least the Terps didn't have a Final Four run to lose.